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Racial discrimination by Veterans Affairs spans decades, Yale legal clinic lawsuit says

The seal affixed to the front of the Veterans Affairs Department building in Washington.
Charles Dharapak
The seal affixed to the front of the Veterans Affairs Department building in Washington.

Conley Monk Jr. served as a Marine in the Vietnam War. When he returned home, the Department of Veterans Affairs repeatedly denied his applications for education, housing, and disability support until December 2020, when the VA agreed that he had been eligible for these benefits the entire time.

Monk is now suing the VA for failing to address racial disparities in receiving benefits and is seeking compensation for himself and his family.

“My father fought in the Army in World War II, and I went to Vietnam with the Marines,” Monk Jr. said in a statement alongside U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) on Monday. His father fought in historic battles, such as Normandy, and was also denied access to veteran benefits.

“But like my father before me, I was mistreated by the VA for years, and other Black veterans were denied their rightful benefits," he said. "It’s time for the VA treat Black and white veterans equally.”

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School is representing Monk, who received a less than honorable discharge from the military "for an infraction that did not warrant this unfair punishment," he said.

Since receiving access to veteran benefits in 2020, Monk Jr., who is co-founder and director of the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, has been investigating the VA for racial disparities. The only data that was available to him were VA denial rates from 2001-2020. He said he found that the VA denied disability compensation for African American veterans at an average rate of 29.5%, while white veterans were denied at an average rate of 24.2%.

Percentage of Disability Claims Denied
Adam Henderson
Monk v U.S. Complaint for District of Connecticut
The data showed that from 2002 to 2020, a Black veteran applying for disability compensation was more likely to be denied than a white veteran from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. This data is displayed above.

Adam Henderson, a Yale Law School intern working on this suit, found that the VA did not keep records of how often they denied Black veterans prior to 2001.

“They said that they didn’t have that data and it shows that they weren’t even tracking it prior to 2001 and so there’s no way that they could have put together a system that accounted for racial disparities because they weren’t even tracking it which further shows the VA’s official negligence,” Henderson said.

Henderson said he believes if Monk is successful, this case could be used as precedent for more 20th century Black veterans to receive benefits they rightfully earned.

Blumenthal, who is also a Marine veteran and now a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, said he wants the VA to improve it’s oversight to ensure that all veterans receive the care they deserve.

“I am deeply concerned by reports of racial discrimination in VA care and benefits,” Blumenthal said in statement. “Stronger oversight and clear action should be taken promptly to stop any discrimination— absolutely abhorrent wherever it occurs. All who serve and sacrifice for our great nation deserve equal treatment and protection."

This lawsuit, if successful under the Federal Tort Claims Act, could pave the way for more Black veterans who were unjustly unable to receive veteran benefits to finally get compensation for their service.

Eric Warner is a news fellow at WSHU.